Cybernews podcast #46: Assange, humanoid smiles, tin foil hats, and old-school crypto heists

This week at Cybernews, we’ve been discussing the ins and outs of the Julian Assange saga. He’s free now, and on our weekly podcast, we discuss what this means. Plus, we talk about life-like skin for robots, a weird anti-5G clothing line, and a series of old-school crypto robberies in the US.

If any of that sounds interesting or if you wanna know why we’ve decorated ourselves with tin foil hats, please tune in and watch us blabber – the latest podcast episode is available on Spotify and YouTube.

Julian Assange walks free

The world’s leaker-in-chief Assange has been released from a British prison, pled guilty to violating US espionage law, and has already landed in Australia and been reunited with family. His 14-year legal saga has now been brought to an end.

As far as the world is aware, Assange can be pretty narcissistic. But his case has also set a practical precedent: it turns out that a publisher can be convicted under the Espionage Act in the US.

No one had ever been charged under the Espionage Act for a journalistic act, in part because there had long been a widespread assumption that applying that law to such acts would be unconstitutional.

Then again, “it's one thing to give information to journalists for verifying and holding the powerful accountable, and it's totally different to just publish random databases in bulk, not considering whether it would endanger people,” as Jurgita Lapienytė, the chief editor of Cybernews, puts it.

Assange has always seemed to lack judgment – like when WikiLeaks spread conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton and literally asked Russia for stolen emails about her in 2016. If Assange thinks America is all evil as opposed to the do-gooders in Russia, there’s nothing much to add here.


M.I.A sells tin foil hats to protect you from 5G waves

A controversial British rapper, singer, and producer M.I.A has launched her new clothing line, which claims to combat the harsh side effects of the digital age.

M.I.A. has created a clothing line called OHMNI that promises to combat the “the unseeable” digital devils that exist amongst us. Yes, she’s talking about 5G waves and much more supposed nasty stuff related to the cyber realm.

The clothing line claims that it’s the “last frontier at preserving your privacy, autonomy, and rights over your body and your data,” the OHMNI website reads.

One can, of course, laugh at the choices of both M.I.A. and the people who will buy the supposedly protective apparel.

Live and let live, we suppose. Mind you, this “99.999% shielding effectiveness” is gonna cost you – for instance, the price for the poncho that allegedly protects your brain, gut, lungs, heart, and womb (!) is $200.


Researchers create “real” skin for robots

While today, robots are quite capable, what gives away that they are machines is their appearance. Even though sometimes they are shaped like humans, we can easily see that they’re made from inorganic materials.

This might not last long, as Japanese robotics researchers have found a way to create human-looking skin for robots.

The scientists mixed cultured cells and silicone for effect, and shared their findings on Cell Reports Physical Science, providing a glimpse into what a robotic future could look like and how some groups of people could benefit from it.

So far, though, the prototype may appear more Haribo than human-like. Besides, our question is: do we want the robots to be more human-like? Not necessarily, right?

In fact, there’s a Japanese term to describe the relation between an object’s degree of resemblance to a human being and the human’s emotional response to the object – it’s called Uncanny valley for a reason.


Good old crypto heists, anyone?

There are robberies, and there are robberies. The FBI said this week that armed thugs were carrying violent home invasions in multiple US states so that they could drain their victims’ cryptocurrency accounts.

A 24-year-old Remy St. Felix of West Palm Beach, Florida, and his co-conspirators are said to have targeted the homeowners by hacking into their email accounts and then conducting physical surveillance of the homes before carrying out the brutal robberies.

Police say the gang would use encrypted messaging platforms to discuss how they would target the victims and launder the stolen money.

The stolen funds would be laundered through anonymity-enhanced cryptocurrencies such as Monero, as well as “instant exchanges” and decentralized finance platforms that did not conduct know-your-customer checks.

Numerous incidents like this have been also reported previously – in most cases, the perpetrators are usually very young. Is it a sign that crypto means easy money in the eyes of the adolescent? Maybe.